Can You Live Here?
Erbil, Day 3 of my visit, I had no idea when I woke that morning that I would not be able to sleep for days since. 1 December, 2016, not an extremely cold day, but not pleasant either, windy and it had rained that evening and the evening before. I felt chilled with a leather jacket on, yet I would soon lose the chill of cold for a deeper chill, the kind one gets when something so horrible is appearing before one’s eyes.
Al Khazir Camp, the place newly arrived refugees from the city of Mosul, with the bombing and shooting still fresh in their minds, see as their “safe” place. I see people, so many children, struggling to get by. They somehow look relieved, maybe even happy, if that word is even part of the vocabulary I should use to describe the refugees, women, men, children, all ages…war does not discriminate between whether you can walk, have medical conditions, need regular medication, a wheelchair perhaps. My stomach is wrenching, my head feels overwhelmed, I cannot think. I look around, in sincere disbelief at what my eyes refuse to process.
There are cars, trucks, all types of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, old and less old, falling apart and not so ramshackle, many with long poles or sticks jimmy-rigged to stay up and stay on the vehicle. These poles wave dirty white flags that flap in the wind. I even see a cement truck. I feel like throwing up. The area outside this camp looks like a parking lot of vehicles that someone shook, so the vehicles are scattered every which way, military and police persons are everywhere.
Bring Hope Humanitarian Foundation supplies as many personal care, hygiene items, clothes, toys, medicine, and yes…even hospital beds to this camp in as much quantity as they are able. We need help, because they need help. Getting here we were checked by security seven times. It is within 13 kilometers of Mosul and no one can say what might happen or who is escaping to this first point of entry to safety. Kurdistan takes its security very, very seriously.
Al Khazir Camp opened 20 October 2016, it is FULL. There are 40,000 people or approximately 6,000 families with an average of 6-7 children each. It is total chaos inside the barbed wire fence. Water arrives and people are running to grab their containers. The water is in a petrol truck. Children, some who look as young as 3 are trying to carry water. My head thinks, OMG, I just turn on the faucet, it will never seem simple to me again.
I was told since this camp is full now, the refugees still coming out of Mosul go to Hassan Sham Camp, but they can accommodate only 2000 families and they are also now FULL. The newer camp is called Al Khazir #2 and has 5000 tents. Camp Managers are overwhelmed; I know I would have difficulty prioritizing if I was in their shoes. The process seems more like putting out the biggest fires rather than being able to address issues in a more thoughtful manner, I was told, “All pressure is on us” and behind the constant din of people, crying children, shouting and wind they continue, “what UNHCR has done should have been done by the Iraqi government, instead, we take all the responsibility.” “Why?”, I say. A serious and very sullen look appears on the faces of those in charge, they say, “these are people, our people, why should we not?”
When I ask what do you need most, what would be the biggest help or have the largest impact on the lives of these people the answer is unanimous, “we need everything. Don’t you see how primitive the life here is? Water goes inside the tents, everything they own, what little they have gets muddy and some items totally ruined. There is no hospital or clinic even.” We left them 2 boxes of well stocked doctor packs and promised to return with more supplies in a day or two.
I didn’t sleep till we returned to this camp with much more to give, but not enough to even make a dent in the need. I spoke to many families and children, we played and learned, my heart ached for them, it still hurts. I will write their stories in the coming days, for now I ask for support and help to give these people a decent way to live.